Books·The First Page

Is This Life? by Ruby Craig

Is This Life? by Ruby Craig is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge.

2023 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

A portrait of a teenage girl with reddish-brown hair smiling at the camera.
Ruby Craig is a finalist for the First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 10 to 12 category. (Submitted by Ruby Craig)

Is This Life? by Ruby Craig is one of 11 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 category for 2023.

Students across Canada wrote the first page of a novel set 150 years in the future, imagining how a current-day trend or issue has played out. More than 1,200 students submitted their stories.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada. The winners will be selected by bestselling YA writer Courtney Summers and will be announced on May 31.

Craig, 16, a student at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., writes about women's rights in Afghanistan.

"I live a life of ruin," I whisper as I watch my husband leave the door, dust swirling around our country we call home. The government is roaming the streets looking for a reason to cause chaos. Asmaan is my name... quite absurd if you ask me considering it stands for wisdom. Yet, throughout my whole upbringing, I've been informed that women are nothing of the sort. Afghanistan, a place where women are perceived to be some sort of invasive species corroding this country, and the officers are pest control attempting to revoke our rights. It has been like this for more than a century. My sister, Arezo tells me crazed stories of a time almost 200 years ago where we were not looked at like roadkill, our presence didn't make the men act like there was a decaying animal sitting across from them, flesh torn everywhere, and a stench so horrid you want to vomit. Here, we are no better than torn apart animals.

I despise my life. In America, they have schools, schools women can attend; here in Afghanistan it's been nearly 150 years since this has been taken from us. I've read in the papers that the government in the U.S. has begun implanting a regulation to get folks outside more since the takeover of Artificial Intelligence. Here, all I wish to do is be outside. We are trapped like prisoners inside our homes.

I tend to daydream. I dream of leaving my country and sauntering in a park, simply taking in the intoxicating smell of fresh air and delicate daffodils blossoming in the early stages of spring. Not that I know what spring is like, but from what I've read. Putrid is the smell in my own home and my own country.

"Arezo, I have a plan." I approached her with pure conviction. "I am leaving." She laughs at me, probably disregarding this as another one of my foolish ideas. "I have already packed my bags," I yell.

"You will be killed, Asmaan," Arezo shouts as I slam the door.

I suddenly hear a thunderous metallic boom, the ringing in my ears stronger than any other noises. The taste of metal takes up each and every one of my taste buds and there's an odd smell of burning flesh. Is this it? Have I escaped?

About The First Page student writing challenge

A cartoon astronaut with a laser sword bursting out of a book and flying through space with her cat.
The First Page student writing challenge asks students in Grades 7 to 12 to write the first page of a novel from 150 years in the future. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2173. They wrote the first page of a book set 150 years in the future, with the protagonist facing an issue that's topical today and set the scene for how it's all playing out in a century and a half.

Two winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — will be chosen by bestselling author Courtney Summers. 

Summers has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult literature, the 2019 Odyssey Award and the 2020 Forest of Reading White Pine Award. Her 2021 book The Project won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Young Adult novel.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada:

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2023.

Both winners will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which sends fresh boxes of books to young readers across Canada on a monthly basis. In addition, each of the winners' schools will receive 50 free YA books.

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